Hundreds of local residents came out in force on Sept. 1 to donate supplies to a collection drive for Hurricane Harvey victims in Texas.
The city’s fire and auxiliary police departments launched the effort on Aug. 27, and it continued when Long Beach resident Tim Kramer announced on Facebook the following day that he had scheduled two tractor-trailers to pick up supplies from Long Beach to drive to Texas.
Tim and his wife, Christina, along with other organizers, collected a variety of items — water bottles, personal hygiene products, cleaning supplies, non-perishable food items, first-aid supplies, flashlights, blankets, gift cards and baby care products — all categorized into sections in the hall of St. Mary of the Isle Roman Catholic Church.
“Without Father Brian donating his facilities, this doesn’t work,” Kramer said of the Rev. Brian Barr, the church’s pastor. “Without Jack Murphy, who owns the trucking company, this doesn’t work. Without the volunteers, this doesn’t work. All I did was provide a way for people to help.”
Organizers said they would collect donations until noon on Sept. 2. Although they originally planned for two trucks to be filled, they ended up filling six. Each truck cost at least $5,000, and a GoFundMe page pulled in $31,487, which organizers said was enough for all of the trucks. Kramer said that the excess money would be used to buy gift cards for storm victims.
One of the trucks pulled up at the YWCA in Houston on Sept. 5. Another truck was scheduled to stop at St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Community Church.
“We’re excited this morning, because we have a truck that has come all the way from New York to show YWCA Houston love,” said the YWCA’s executive director, Allison Booker-Brooks.
The hall at St. Mary’s was packed wall to wall with cardboard boxes filled with donations, creating a maze for volunteers, who rushed in and out of the church. WildFeast, a local restaurant, donated trays of food for the volunteers.
“Once again, Long Beach comes through,” said County Legislator Denise Ford, who lives in Long Beach and helped collect gift card donations. “When we look at this — what we’re doing for Houston — you realize that five years ago, people did this for us. They all came together to show their love.”
Many volunteers recalled the destruction that Long Beach suffered in Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and the subsequent desperate need for supplies. “It’s really resonated, because people who suffered through Sandy have such empathy for the people in Texas,” said Point Lookout resident Nancy Murray. “There have been nonstop people coming all day long. The first thing they say is, ‘We remember what it was like with Sandy.’”
“I think Long Beach and the surrounding communities have come together because we know what it’s like to go through a catastrophic experience,” said Long Beach resident Kelly Mowery. “With all the good people that helped us get back on our feet from all over the country and all over the world, this is the least we can do to help our fellow Americans.”
Barr recalled trucks coming from all over the country to help Sandy victims, and said that the relief effort aims to return the favor. “That’s what our Christian faith says,” he said. “When people are without, when people are struggling, when people have serious need, we have an obligation to assist as much as we can.”
The Kramers posted messages on their Facebook pages thanking those involved in the collection drive, including the Long Beach Polar Bears, who donated sweatshirts; the Police Department, which gave the trucks an escort; Kamco Supply Corp., for providing trucking supplies; the Harp restaurant, in Houston; and the Hilton in Victoria, Texas.
Additionally, nearly $39,000 in gift cards was sent to storm victims. A team of volunteers went to Texas with the trucks to distribute the gift cards, organizers said. Christian Lesperance, a producer for Nickelodeon, plans to use the footage of the relief effort to create a documentary, according to the Facebook page Sandy Survivors to Help Harvey Survivors.
“A huge thank-you to legions of volunteers at St. Mary’s and throughout Long Beach who donated and volunteered to assist in the incredible relief effort this week — especially the Kramers, who made it all happen,” City Manager Jack Schnirman said. “What started out as an idea last weekend took on a life of its own. Long Beach did what Long Beach does — we pulled together and demonstrated, yet again, how incredibly connected we all are, and how extraordinary our community is.”
“We know what it feels like,” said resident Donna Beggi. “I have plenty of friends that live in Houston, so now we have their backs. Everybody had our backs, so now it’s time to pay it forward.”